If you’re under 20, chances are you have lied about your age in order to make a Google account. Since Gmail was launched in 2004, lying about age has been the de-facto standard for kids making an account, and I myself lied when I was younger.
However, Google has announced a possible solution to this ethical problem, and its name is Family Link. According to Google, “The devices we carry every day open up a world of information for us to explore, sparking our curiosity and creativity” but “every family feels differently about what their kids should and shouldn’t be able to do on their device.”
When I created my first Google account at about age seven, my parents were undoubtedly worried about making sure I didn’t use it too much. They also wanted to make sure I only accessed appropriate sites (as they still do!), but there wasn’t a great way for them to monitor my activity.
With Family Link, Google aims to solve this problem. Family Link lets parents create a Google Account for their child but limit access to certain features. For example, they can set a “device bedtime,” ensuring that their child goes to bed on time. For young students, this can be especially helpful, since getting enough sleep is something everyone should do (do as I say, not as I do).
Included with the bedtime feature is a way to see how long a child has been using each app on their device (no, your kid didn’t spend enough time on Khan Academy). It’s nice to know what your child is doing with their device, so having a feature like this is exciting.
Family Link also lets parents approve or deny app suggestions so kids end up trying to download Mobile Strike. A feature like this is extremely helpful for a parent who wants to let their child get some apps, but not go app-crazy, or for a parent who just wants to keep their eyes on their child’s activities.
However, there is one gaping problem with this entire strategy: What parent wants to give their child who is under 13 a phone that is almost certainly over $400? Not my parents. Since Family Link only works with devices running Android 7.0 Nougat and some Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the use case for Family Link is very limited.
In addition, in Google’s official blog post about Family Link, nothing is mentioned about desktop usage. In the future, features to limit Gmail usage to only emailing Mom, Dad, and Grandma and accepting emails from friends would certainly be nice.
My last problem with this app is that it doesn’t stop kids from signing out and lying about their age again. While most kids aren’t knowledgeable enough to do this, some are, and they will most certainly exploit the system.
Overall, however, Family Link is a great step in the right direction. In many families, getting new types of technology is a process, and giving kids immediate access to a whole Google account can be frightening for both the parent and the child. With Family Link, parents can slowly roll out features to their children to ensure their safety.
Right now, Family Link is available through an early access program that parents can request an invitation to on the Family Link website.